Denying Sin and Rejecting Facts Left Us with Baskets of Deplorables

That's racist

A week ago, Hillary Clinton set political alarm bells ringing by consigning “half of Trump’s supporters” to “the basket of deplorables” in what was either a monumental gaffe or a brilliant strategic coup, depending on who you ask. (Time will doubtless tell, but he hasn’t yet.) Less discussed was the second half of her quote, as she elaborated on the nature of the “deplorables”: “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic…”

Personally, I liked the quote. It was neither gracious nor accurate, but the imagery is perfect. For many on the political left, these assorted phobias and ugly -isms function exactly as Clinton described—a basket into which any unwelcome sentiments can be cast and ignored. Worried about the potential of unlimited immigration to change Western culture? You’re a xenophobe. See some value in the definition of marriage which has been assumed for thousands of years? You’re homophobic. When “That’s racist” is a joke in high schools across the country, it may be a sign that your favorite condemnatory labels have been a bit overused.

Which is a pity, because racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia really do exist; are even, in fact, bigger problems than many on the right might like to admit. But instead of serving a useful purpose by calling out true wrongs, these labels and those who use them often just muddy the waters. The reason our phobias and isms are so imprecise and overused is because we have jettisoned the two most necessary criteria for moral condemnation: the categories of sin and objective fact.

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Two Ways to Go Wrong About Free Speech

When it comes to free speech, we’re losing our minds in multiple directions at once. On the one hand, some, mostly on the left, are crusading against unwelcome or unpleasant speech with tactics ranging from mob criticism to thuggish violence to actual state censorship. Others, mostly on the right, have reacted by dismissing civility and mutual respect as mere political correctness. It’s past time to regain the self-restraint–in our own speech and in our reactions to others–that makes free speech livable.

The urge to censor is natural. People (other people, of course) say awful, hurtful things. It is easy to see how the world would be better if that guy over there could just be shut up, and the excitement of joining together in righteous indignation to make him shut up is only an added inducement. So lives are ruined over ill-considered social media posts, controversial campus speakers are threatened and shouted down, and violent mobs assault their neighbors for the crime of attending a Donald Trump rally.

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‘Inflammatory’ pro-life rhetoric: Sometimes telling ugly truths is necessary

Given the Planned Parenthood shooter’s recent outbursts in court, declaring himself to be “a warrior for the babies” among other references to abortion, it seems clear that Robert Dear was motivated at least in part by specific animus toward the abortion provider he targeted. Of course, his mental instability suggests that analyzing his motivation in logical and linear terms may be giving him too much credit, but whatever mental process led him to that Planned Parenthood office was probably informed by anti-abortion rhetoric. Which raises a tough question: Were those whose words probably influenced Dear’s actions in any way responsible for those actions?

The aftermath of the shooting has seen a flood of condemnation for “deeply irresponsible” pro-life rhetoric which is blamed for all of the relatively rare attacks against abortion providers in recent decades. Because the pro-life movement calls the abortion industry evil, the reasoning goes, they are collectively responsible whenever someone decides to fight the evil of abortion with the evil of extrajudicial violence. Though the pro-life movement consistently denounces violence against abortion providers, many on the left argue that pro-lifers should still be held accountable for the choices of those who may have been influenced by their condemnation of abortion.

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When ‘violent disagreement’ isn’t just a figure of speech

A few days ago, journalist Zoey Tur, formerly Bob Tur, briefly made headlines after a televised roundtable discussion of transsexuality during which he grabbed another participant by the back of the neck, leaned in, and growled, “You cut that out now, or you’ll go home in an ambulance.” The other panelist’s offense? Arguing that Tur’s male genome meant he was in fact… male. When he was asked later why threats of violence against transsexuals are wrong but threats of violence against those who disagree with transsexuality are acceptable, Tur tweeted, “being called Sir and mentally ill is violence” (emphasis mine).

I bring up the incident because it illustrates a new and increasingly widespread perspective which has the potential to radically change the social and legal framework of conversation and disagreement in America. This is the idea that being confronted with “bad” ideas, and especially being challenged on issues which one considers important, is tantamount to violence.

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